Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 22. German Shakespearean Scholarship in the Nineteenth Century

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XII. Shakespeare on the Continent

§ 22. German Shakespearean Scholarship in the Nineteenth Century

If we turn to the nineteenth century, a certain analogy to the influence of Shakespeare in Germany just discussed is to be found in his influence on the French romantic school; in this period, Shakespeare might be said to have deflected for a time the literature of France from its normal development, or, at least, from the development defined by the literary history of previous centuries. It might have been expected that the precursors of the école romantique, the representatives of the so-called emigrant literature, should have had a special sympathy for the sombre, misty side of Shakespeare’s genius. But this was only the case in a limited degree; there was no question of his seizing them and bending them, as it were, to his will, as in the contemporary literary movement in Germany; indeed, in Chateaubriand (Shakepeare, 1801), we find a revival of the old Voltairean standpoint. On the other hand, Madame de Staël (De la littérature, 1800) wrote with a certain enthusiasm of Shakespeare, and Charles Nodier, in his Pensées de Shakespeare (1801), reflected the attitude of his German masters. Meanwhile, on the stage, Népomucène Lemercier borrowed freely from the English dramatist, and the mutilations of Ducis found even less scrupulous imitators than Ducis himself. It seemed as if the labours of the anglomanes of the eighteenth century were to be wholly undone; the gulf between French and English taste was wider than ever; and, in the summer of 1822, English actors, who attempted to present Hamlet and Othello in Paris, were actually hissed off the stage. But a better time was not far off; in the very next year, Stendhal (Henri Beyle) published his Racine et Shakespeare, and took his side very emphatically against the classicists. Guizot, together with other fellow workers, had, in 1821, resuscitated Le Tourneur, republishing his translation in a revised form, and thus enabling the younger generation of poets and critics to put to the test those enthusiastic eulogies of English poets which they found in German romantic writers. In the following year, Guizot vindicated the English poet in his essay De Shakspear et de la Poésie dramatique.In 1827, the attempt to produce Shakespeare in English in the French capital was renewed, this time with the co-operation of Charles Kemble, Macready and Edmund Kean, and awakened the enthusiasm of all literary Paris; and, under the influence of these impressions, Victor Hugo wrote his famous manifesto of the new movement, the preface to Cromwell (1827). It seemed as if the intoxication to which the English poet had given rise more than a generation earlier in Germany were about to repeat itself in France. Alfred de Vigny, in an admirable translation, transferred the English triumphs of Othello to the stage of the Théâtre Français itself (1829); Alexandre Dumas translated Hamlet (played 1847); while Alfred de Musset’s whole dramatic work is permeated and coloured by Shakespearean influence. The press of the day echoed the emotional interest which the romantic school felt in Shakespeare; and the enthusiasm of Charles Magnin (in Le Globe, 1827–8) and of Jules Janin helped to counteract such spasmodic attempts as, for instance, were made by Paul Duport (Essais littéraires sur Shakespeare, 1828), to resuscitate the antagonistic criticism of Voltaire and La Harpe. The peculiarly emotional nature of this enthusiasm of 1827 distinguished it from the anglomanie of the previous century, and it shows itself still more clearly in the remarkable influence of the English poet on French romantic art—for example, on Eugène Delacroix—and on French music as represented by Hector Berlioz. From this time, the supremacy of Shakespeare in modern literature was not seriously questioned in France; the romantic fever passed, romanticism assumed other forms, but the controversies which Shakespeare had stirred up in the previous century were no longer possible. Except in the case of Victor Hugo, who, so late as 1864, repeated the old fervid notes of Cromwell in an essay inspired by his son’s success as a translator of Shakespeare, romantic criticism ripened and matured as time went on. Guizot, towards the end of his career, devoted another volume to Shakespeare (Shakespeare et son temps, 1852); a work by Alfred Mézières, Shakespeare, ses æuvres et ses critiques, appeared in 1860. Lamartine published his Shakespeare et son æuvre in 1865. Translations of Shakespeare’s works were published by Francisque Michel in 1839, by Benjamin Lariche in 1851, by Émile Montegut in 1867 and, as already mentioned, by François Victor Hugofrom 1859 to 1866. And yet, in spite of the continued occupation with Shakespeare on the part of literary classes, it must be confessed that the interest in him in France, otherwise than in Germany, where Shakespeare was completely naturalised, remains a matter only of intellectual curiosity. French criticism of Shakespeare cannot belie the fact—and, perhaps, the absence of any attempt on its part to do so may attest its justness of perception—that his kind of greatness lies outside the pale of the national ideas and the national taste. He has won no permanent place in the national theatre, and the many performances of Shakespearean dramas which have taken place from time to time in Paris have been viewed as literary experiments appealing to the cultured few, rather than as dramatic fare for the general public.

The rôle which Shakespeare played in the Germany of the nineteenth century was much more important, but, so far as literary history is concerned, perhaps less interesting, than that which he played in France. A kind of zenith had been reached in German appreciation of Shakespeare at the close of the eighteenth century. The translation then begun by Schlegel, was, in later years, completed under the direction of Ludwig Tieck, with the help of his daughter Dorothea and of count Baudissin; and it may at least be said that these later translations, although inferior, are not unworthy to stand beside Schlegel’s. Germany, like France, went on producing new translations—a complete Shakespeare, for instance, was published by the poet Johann Heinrich Voss and his two sons in nine volumes in 1818–29, and another by Friedrich von Bodenstedt, with the co-operation of Ferdinand Freiligrath, Otto Gildemeister, Paul Heyse and others, in 1867—but the romantic translators had done their work so well that these new productions could only have a subordinate and supplementary value. In German literature Shakespeare has remained a vital and ever-present force. The problem which Schiller had first tentatively approached, namely, the reconciliation of Shakespeare with the antique, could not be evaded by his successors; Heinrich von Kleist took it up with abundant zeal and solved it in an essentially romantic way; and, notwithstanding the romantic tendency to place Calderon on a higher pinnacle than Shakespeare, the romantic dramatistswere all, in the first instance, Shakespeareans. Christian Grabbe was as zealous a Shakespeare worshipper as the Lenzes and Klingers of earlier days; and even Franz Grillparzer—with all his love for the Spaniards—had moments when he saw eye to eye with the English dramatist. It was not before Christian Friedrich Hebbel, about the middle of the century, that the German drama began to feel its way to a conception of dramatic poetry more essentially modern than Shakespeare’s; and even Hebbel sought to justify by the example of Shakespeare that accentuation of the psychological moment in which his own peculiar strength lies. On the other hand, Hebbel’s brother-in-arms, Otto Ludwig, was a more uncompromising Shakespearean than any German before him; he not merely Shakespeareanised his own dramas, but struck an original note of Shakespeare criticism in essays unfortunately not printed until several years after his death. On the whole, however, Shakespeare had expended his fructifying influence on German literature in the previous century; to none of these later writers did he bring—as to Goethe and Herder—a new revelation; and the subversive forces of the modern German drama have little in common with Elizabethan ideals.

The consideration of Shakespeare in Germany in the nineteenth century falls into two main divisions: German Shakespearean scholarship and the presentation of Shakespeare on the German stage. The former of these is a long and difficult chapter which has still to be written; in the present survey, it is only possible to indicate its general features. The beginnings of German scholarly work on Shakespeare might be traced to Wieland’s investigation of the source of Othello, in 1773; but this was more or less isolated; what men like Eschenburg had to say, somewhat later, was little more than a reproduction of English criticism. A significant moment in the development was Goethe’s analysis of Hamlet in Wilhelm Meister, to which reference has already been made. Then came Friedrich Schlegel, with his marvellous insight into the workings of genius, and kindled a new light on the poet; Tieck laboriously and patiently investigated the whole Shakespearean world—defining that world, perhaps, too vaguely and loosely—and it is assuredly a loss that the life of Shakespeare which he planned was never written; lastly, August Wilhelm Schlegel, in his famous lectures Über dramatische Kunst und Literatur (1809–11), popularised the romantic criticism of Shakespeare, and, in this form, it reacted on our own Coleridge and influenced profoundly the theory of the drama in France, Italy and Spain.